Corporate America’s Caregiver Crisis

by | Feb 3, 2021 | Business & Aging, Caregiving

I recently gave a keynote speech to a room comprised of 1000 or so “C-level” female executives – the topic was how to balance caregiving and a career.  As take-charge women they were there to learn tools to help them cope with the arduous tasks associated with caregiving for an aging loved one while simultaneously keeping up with the intense demands of their careers.  I decided to kickoff my presentation by asking the audience how many of them had employee benefit packages that included eldercare options.  To my absolute amazement less than 100 people raised their hand!  A myriad of questions began racing through my mind….Do they even know what I’m talking about when I say eldercare benefits?  If so, did they not inquire as to whether this benefit was a part of their “package” when they were hired?  Are eldercare benefits actually not currently being offered as an employment benefit these days?  I was astonished…..

As the number of employees juggling the care of an older loved one escalates, these working caregivers are increasingly torn between the pressing needs of their families and unyielding obligations to their employers.  Clearly, most employers fail to recognize the overwhelming consequences of their employees unresolved eldercare issues – the outcome of this oversight will most certainly create a sobering financial hit to these organizations bottom line.  A recent survey conducted by MetLife, which estimates the aggregate cost of caregiving in lost productivity to United States businesses at approximately $34 billion per year, irrefutably elucidates this assumption!  Yet to my incredulity, only about one in four companies currently offer elder care benefits.

Even if corporate eldercare benefits do exist on paper, most employees say their supervisor’s negative attitude toward eldercare heavily influences their limited use of these perks. Apparently many managers are perceived to be sending mixed signals if employees try to use these benefits.  This seems especially prevalent in the case of an older employee and a younger manager, in which the manager may not have had any previous experience caregiving for an aging loved one.  With that being said, it’s estimated that supervisors spend 55.7 million hours of company time per year dealing with issues specifically related to employed caregivers, for a total cost to businesses of over $800 million annually.

This impending “employee caregiving crisis” is not surprising however, when you consider that an estimated 65 million people – 29% of the United States population – currently provide informal care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year.  It’s alarming to note that most caregivers are cited as tending to their parents, or other mature relatives, an average of 20 hours per week – 13% of family caregivers report that they actually provide an astounding 40 hours (or more) of care a week.  The emotional and financial burdens that weigh on caregivers affect their work performance. Most caregivers have jobs, but 70 percent make workplace adjustments like leaving early to take a parent to the doctor, according to AARP research.

As of January 1st 2011, each day 10,000 baby boomers started turning 65 years of age – the average 65-year-old today can expect to live another 20.4 years.  Statistics show that 85% of persons 65 years of age, and over, will require some form of caregiving assistance within their lifetime.  These figures are undoubtedly expected to rise significantly as our population continues to “age up” appreciably over the next decade.

Providing eldercare can be an unexpected rollercoaster of emotional, physical, and financial drains for caregivers.  It’s this complex and unpredictable maelstrom that exemplifies the need for companies to be aware of, and prepared for, the demands of employees providing care.  The most common challenges that employed caregivers face include: taking unpaid leaves of absence or using personal or sick days to provide care; coming to work late/leaving work early; refusing relocation or work-related travel; and declining overtime work or new assignments.  If employers want to sustain a healthy work environment and the highest level of productivity, they must support “caregiver-friendly” policies that include innovative eldercare benefits.

The issue of eldercare benefits has become especially important to women, in as much as they make up approximately 66% of the caregivers in the U.S.  The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who doesn’t (currently) live with her.  She’s married, employed and more than 37% of these female caregivers have children or grandchildren under 18 years old also living with them.  This group is commonly referred to as the “sandwich generation” and is made up of those folks who are caught between taking care of their aging loved ones and their children simultaneously.

During the 2009 economic downturn, 1 in 5 family caregivers stated that their finances were so strained that they were forced to move into the same home with their aging loved ones to cut down on their annual expenses.  Incredibly, 47% of working caregivers indicate that an increase in caregiving expenses has caused them to use up all or most of their savings.  It’s estimated that the average family caregiver spends at least $5,500 per year on out of pocket caregiving expenses – long distance caregivers are projected to be spending in excess of $8,500 annually!

Caregiver’s health is unquestionably being negatively impacted with over 20% of family caregivers self-reporting their health is “fair or poor” at best!  63% of caregivers report having poorer eating habits than non-caregivers and 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.  In addition, over 20% of employed female caregivers report symptoms of depression compared to 8% of their non-caregiving peers.  Not to mention, family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to “age” prematurely – it’s estimated that this level of stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver’s life!

With all of this being said, and at the risk of sounding completely dismissive, I do want to take a moment to give a “shout out” to a few of the companies that ARE offering at least some type of eldercare benefits:

Prudential Financial – they let workers make a $100 co-payment and hire a geriatric-care specialist.

McGraw-Hill – permits employees to enroll one other adult family member, which can be an elderly relative, on their health-insurance plan at regular family rates.

Verizon Communications – (the Verizon Wireless division) offers emergency in-home care, and has even extended the benefit to some part-time employees.

Freddie Mac – offers monthly support groups for those caring for family members and provides emergency elder home care, for which employees pay $15 a day.

AstraZeneca – employees can get six hours a year with a geriatric care expert who will help them access, and hopefully palliate, their caregiving situation.

IBMoffers discounted long-term-care insurance, an ambulance at the touch of a button, and free software to assist employees who are using the internet to find caregiver resources.

The rest of corporate America MUST wake up and start to recognize these seemingly perennial caregiving trends – if for no other reason than to strengthen their bottom line!  Employees caring for elderly loved ones cost employers 8% more in health care expenses – estimated to be worth $13.4 billion per year.  Recently released research indicated that six in 10 family caregivers are currently employed.  66% of these employees stated that they’ve routinely been forced to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely; and 1 in 5 family caregivers have had to take a family leave of absence.  Eldercare in the workplace, although still largely unaddressed, has become one of the fastest growing work-family employee challenges to emerge in the past decade.  Eldercare is indeed quickly catching up to childcare as the “hot button issue” facing personnel today and these employees indubitably deserve to understand how their employers will be assisting them – emotionally, physically and financially – to help stabilize this ongoing caregiving crisis.